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Jay Fiedler, Dolphins Rally Over Raiders in Emotional Return
In the NFL's first week back following the 9-11 tragedy, Fiedler and the Dolphins win at the buzzer.
By Travis Wingfield Dec 22, 2020

"It allowed us as athletes to be able to get our focus away from what was going on. We realized that life does move on and we had to keep pushing forward. We translated that to getting back on the field and allowing America to heal and give them a bit of normalcy after a couple weeks of grieving." – Jay Fiedler

Week 3 of the 2001 NFL season was unlike any other. Coming off a league-wide cancellation of the previous week's slate, play resumed as planned 12 days after the September 11 attacks. Quarterback Jay Fiedler, a native of New York, bookended Miami's 18-15 win over the Oakland Raiders with memorable moments that provided a parallel between the game of football and the nation's resilient pedigree.

The resumption of sports was a unifying thread in America. Patriotism was on display throughout the NFL landscape as the country continued to heal and come back from one of the greatest tragedies in our nation's history. Fiedler punctuated the first game back with a game-winning touchdown run to topple the Raiders in the contest's final moments.

Before any of that could happen, a lot of grieving had to occur. Especially for the Dolphins quarterback, who was born in Oceanside, New York; a 32,000-resident city an hour west of New York City.

"We didn't know what was going to happen," Fiedler said. "The tragedy happened on an off day on a Tuesday. I remember waking up and getting ready to go to the facility to watch some film and get prepared for the next week. I turned on the T.V., saw what was going on, and it took me a while to get in that day."

Like the rest of us, athlete's minds were elsewhere on that day – for that entire week.

"Growing up in the area, one of my best friends from college worked in the World Trade Center, Cam Fitzgerald, up on the 100th-something floor," Fiedler said. "Luckily he was working some overnight hours and was out of there by the morning but I didn't know that. I spent a good part of the day trying to connect with him and some other people but the phones were all messed up that day so it took a while to finally get the good news."

The fallout from the attacks impacted everything. No industry changed more than the airline industry.

"The preparation getting back … you still had a lot of things going on," Fiedler said. "Air travel was different. My dad used to make it down to every single game of mine, home or away. He jumped on a JetBlue flight and there was maybe four people on the flight. People were that scared of getting on planes."

The NFL decided teams were going to be announced as one, unified collective opposed to the traditional one-by-one starting lineup introductions. For the Dolphins, there was no question about who would lead the team out of the tunnel on that day.


"We did talk it out as a team," Fiedler said. "We were talking about whether we even wanted to play before the NFL made their decision to cancel the game. Because of my New York connection and being a team captain, it was an honor for me to be out front when we were announced pregame with the American flag and lead the team out onto the field."

The pageantry of a regular NFL game is something to behold in its own right. The first week back post-9-11 was nothing short of a can't miss spectacle. Tears, cheers and patriotism were proudly displayed by all.

"The emotions of the national anthem definitely hit a chord with a lot of people," Fiedler said. "I think they had a big fly over for the game, which was energetic and emotional at the same time, with the huge American flag out there. There were some first responders and military down there, so there was definitely a lot of pageantry around the patriotism of coming back and playing."

Then, there was a game to play. As was the case so often for those early-2000's Dolphins teams, it was a low-scoring contest with solid defensive play. And it was a familiar cast of characters.

Linebacker Zach Thomas racked up 18 tackles in the game and safety Brock Marion forced a fumble. Defensive end Jason Taylor didn't sack Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon, but he was constantly in his face helping to limit the Raiders to a season-low 216 yards of offense and just 15 points.

Miami took their first lead of the game in the same way they would eventually win the game – a Fiedler rushing touchdown. Both rushing scores came from two yards out with both coming at the end of either half (16 seconds to play in the first half and five seconds left in the game).

Oakland quickly took the lead right back with the third field goal of the day from Sebastian Jankiowski. The Dolphins had a weapon of their own in kicker Olindo Mare, who put Miami back in front with a 27-yard field goal at the end of the third quarter.

The Miami defense got the football back to the offense just before Fiedler made his biggest mistake of the game. Looking for rookie wide receiver Chris Chambers on a third-and-3 from the Miami 19-yard-line, Raiders safety Anthony Dorsett stepped in front of a pass and returned it 26 yards for a go-ahead touchdown.

As he was known to do, Fiedler responded. His blue-collar style and late-game heroics paired perfectly with the stout defense and ground game of the Dolphins, a style of play that is inherent with Fiedler.

"It comes initially as an athlete with a desire and a hate-to-lose mentality," Fiedler said. "We had a lot of guys on that team that shared that mentality. And at that point, I was playing with a chip on my shoulder. Undrafted free agent quarterback, a guy who was passed around to a few different teams and finally got my opportunity with Miami – I wasn't going to let it up."

Fiedler would get knocked down again and again in this game, but he kept getting off the mat. The Dolphins took possession with 1:41 left to play, no timeouts and 80 yards between them and the winner's circle.

The passing game made quick work initially. Fiedler found Dedric Ward for 20 yards, Travis Minor for eight, Chris Chambers for 27, then Oronde Gadsden for six. After a one-yard Minor rush, Fiedler went back to Gadsden on third down, but the pass fell incomplete.

After an Oakland timeout, Fiedler broke the pocket and got the ball to Ward for nine yards on fourth-and-3. On the next play, Fiedler took a quarterback draw to the two-yard-line before getting popped by defensive end Tony Bryant.

Without any timeouts, Fiedler rushed the offense to the line for a play that would put him in space against another defensive end. This time, Fiedler made his man miss and dove to the goal line to win the game, putting Fiedler on an iconic Sports Illustrated cover the following week.

"That was our two-point play that we worked on," Fiedler said. Since we were down there, we went to it on that third down. That's your best play for that situation, so we dialed it up. It gave me a lot of options."

"Rob Konrad was covered in the flat on the first read," he continued. "Then, I saw Hunter Goodwin flash in front of me. He was covered, so I continued out toward the sideline and Trace Armstrong mirrored me out there. I looked to the end zone, no one was open and as I ducked inside of Trace, I saw plenty of green grass and enough room to get that ball over the end zone.

The touchdown put Miami in front 16-15 and a two-point conversion would make for an 18-15 final. During the interview on Drive Time with Travis Wingfield, Fiedler proudly displayed the blown up, framed cover with him lying in the endzone, fist raised to the heavens, and pure jubilation on his face; or, in his words, euphoria.

"Euphoria. Pure euphoria," Fielder said of the moment. "I looked to the ref to see if he gave me the touchdown signal and as I look up our guys are all going crazy and attacking me. I think when you saw my hand go up that's when I saw the ref give the touchdown signal."

An unforgettable moment during an unforgettable period in American history. The thing Fiedler remembers most from that day are the deafening sounds at Pro Player Stadium.

"The energy that day on the sideline, in the stadium – that was the loudest I had ever heard Pro Player Stadium," Fiedler said.

"It was an honor to be out there that day," he said. "I think sports kind of served as a catalyst for unifying America after the events of 9-11 and even though we wanted to beat the Raiders, the country won that day."

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